Stay with a Family in Latin America and Learn Spanish

So you have started learning Spanish and you want to take it to the next level? Well, by staying with a family in Latin America you will be able to become fluent in Spanish very quickly.

A few years ago I ventured to deepest, darkest Peru to stay with a Peruvian family on the coast. It had always been my dream to visit South America and I would like to tell you that I had done my research thoroughly and knew exactly what to expect from the experience: but that would be stretching the truth.

In reality, I was super young, footloose and fancy free and caught up in the spirit of adventure. It only occurred to me to start thinking about what I was in for when I was on the airplane. I suddenly realized how little research I had done into the place I was going to be staying for the next four months and began to get nervous.

Luckily the family I was placed with was very welcoming and had as much interest in me and learning about my culture as I had in theirs. Everyday I would help the mother of the family go to the market for the daily food and then prepare it in the kitchen. This was a great experience because not only did it give me a solid couple of hours to speak Spanish and develop my fluency and vocabulary, it also taught me how to make many delicious Peruvian dishes.

At first eating a hot dish in the middle of the day in summer heat was difficult for me, but I got used to it and came to see this ritual as part of the glue that holds Peruvian families together. The chance to escape work to meet with your family is an important factor in why Peruvian families are so close. As everyone sat around the dining table it was another chance to speak Spanish and interact with both adults and teenagers – boy did I learn a lot of slang!

Apart from “sit down please” and “how are you?” no one in my host family spoke any English. From day one I was forced to interact in pure Spanish and a little bit of sign language.

At times it could be frustrating when I really wanted to share something with them and I felt clumsy doing it, or could not find the words. At times I just really wanted to have a chat to someone in English. At times I would think I understood something correctly and it turned out I did not. At times it was really tiring communicating 24/7 in Spanish. Immersing yourself in another culture and language is a challenge, no matter which way you spin it.

Poco a poco things got much easier. Gradually I found that I could communicate my thoughts and feelings much more clearly, I could keep pace during the dinner conversations, I could understand jokes and give come backs when I was being affectionately teased and I could keep up with the drama taking place on the TV soap opera.

Without having completed my stay with a Latin American family I doubt I would ever have reached the level of fluency that I achieved after only four months in Peru. I learned more in that time than any grammar book could ever have given me and it motivated me to keep trying to surmount the nightmare of Spanish verb conjugations.

There is no doubt in my mind that staying with a family in Latin America is one of the best ways that you can develop your language skills – and, if you are lucky learn to make some awesome South American food.

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